The SDA Church–Structurally Divided Along Racial Lines I

May 16, 2006

In a recent email circular doing the rounds in South Africa, Geoff Garne states, “I cannot understand why separate racial and linguistic groups in USA are permitted to operate their own non-territorial organizations and even operate their own educational facilities, whereas in South Africa separate Conferences for a minority group is not permissable. That is beyond my comprehension….”

In the same email, Gerhard van Wyk asks, “Is the General Conference protecting minority rights in the USA, but majority rights in South Africa?”

Similarly, Max Webster: “Think also of the hypocrisy of the church that will allow regional (black) conferences in the USA but seeks to destroy so-called white conferences in South Africa on the basis of their being a legacy of apartheid, which is not true. Separate governance of the church in South Africa began before apartheid, and one of the aims was to develop black leadership.”

Valid questions!

I’ll begin by discussing the history of the SDA Church structure in South Africa:

Currently, all but two conferences in the Southern African Union of the SDA Church http://www.adventist.org.za are racially integrated–the Transvaal Conference–which is predominately White, and the Trans-Oranje Conference–which is predominately Black. In South Africa, racially divided conferences date back to 1920 when under the newly formed African Division, the SDA Church’s organizational structure was divided at union level into the South African Union Conference–caring for White conferences–and the Southern Union Mission–caring for Black Missions. In 1922, the church was structurally merged at all levels. However, in 1927, racially separate conferences were revived under a single union–a situation that continued until 1953.

“Since 1953 the South African Union has functioned in two parts–Group I and Group II–meeting separately in general, but jointly for the transaction of certain business. Using this as a foundation, the Union administration has now been re-organized into two parts, Group I and Group II. In Group I are the four conferences for the European and coloured membership, The Indian Mission, and the South West Africa Field….Group II comprises the mission fields and institutions serving the African population.” (South African Division Outlook, March 15, 1961, 8.) Read it here.

In 1965, the separate “groups” were recognised as separate unions–the South African Union Conference–caring for the White, Coloured, and Indian conferences and fields–and the Southern Union Mission–caring for Black fields. This situation continued until December 1991 when the South African Union Conference and the Southern Union merged to form the Southern African Union Conference. Mergers at local conference level then took place until the present structure emerged. (On March 26, 2006, a bid to unite the remaining two conferences–the Transvaal and the Trans-Oranje conferences failed.)

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  1. the love of money,power and greed will keep those who
    are worldly bound jailed in their rule but surely jesus is coming

  2. [...] have previously blogged on Race and Seventh-day Adventism in South Africa: here, here, here and [...]

  3. Regarding black and white conferences in the USA I reckon it’s to do with white SDA’s not wanting to worship with blacks. Friends who’ve visted the states say they are politely told on entering a “white” SDA church that the black church is down the road.

  4. >Friends who’ve visted the states say they are politely told on entering a “white” SDA church that the black church is down the road.

    Which church told them that? In what state? Is there a reason why the particulars are missing? In my hometown church (St. Paul, MN) we have blacks. whites and Hmong in attendance with no problem whatsoever.

  5. What is really causing this division yet we sing ” though we are many we are one body in Christ? Do we think if we cant co-worship as one conference here on earth we will be able in Heaven? if all is centred on race, then we only have the remnant message yet we not be the remnant pple.

  6. all these divided chuches if they dont repent are not serving Jesus and surely are hellbound. Jesus is no divided. If one thinks they will enter heaven with such attitude they are very arrogant and decieved and the SA conferences should grow up and stop comparing with wats happening in the States, they should shut up and reform according to the reproof given to them!!! What as become of the remnant church, let them not fool themselves no heaven will recieve such nonsense!!!instead of fighting over such simple issues we should be focusing on the mission of the church!!

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